Mike Volodarsky's blog

Formerly the core server PM for IIS 7.0 and ASP.NET, now I run LeanSentry.
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Be a part of the energy revolution / Help Save Kilowatt Ours

I dont usually post activist stuff on the blog, but I have to make an exception in this case.

A year ago, I caught a late night showing of Jeff Barrie's Killowatt Ours, a 1 hour long film about the true impact of energy production on our environment, our health, and the extent to which we can help meet our growing energy demands by simply reducing our energy footprint.

Lets just say the film was eye-opening, even given the fact that I've been in the energy field in one way or another for some time. 

Did you know that coal energy plants have contributed to the largest incidence of child astma in history, severe smog pollution in our nations parks, and the mercury poisoning of the majority of state bodies of water?

Did you also know that the state of california, and others have succesfully replaced the need to build new power plants by implementing simple power conservation measures, or the "conversation power plant"? 

The video also shares the simple steps you can take today in your home to slash your power bill by thousands, all the while helping us become energy indepdendent and slow the damage to our environment.

Now, you can watch the entire video with convinent chapter segments at http://www.kilowattours.org/script.php.

Killowatt Ours

If you are interested in energy conservation, or havent had the time to read about the facts, this video is all you need. 

Also, be sure to help save Killowatt Ours, which has been helping champion energy consevation in the US, by making a donation. With a 29.95 donation, you get the T-shirt :) .




Analyzing server power consumption and costs

Server power consumption is rapidly becoming a hot topic in the IT industry. 

For many data centers, the cost of powering servers has become a top budget item.  In fact, in 2008, the average cost of power used by a server exceeded its purchase price (1).

Nationally, the EPA estimated data center electricity consumption to cost over $4.5 Billion a year in 2006, projected to grow to $7.4 Billion in 2011 (2).

The 2007 EPA report to Congress on data center power consumption has spurred an enthusiastic industry response, seeking to understand and reduce server power consumption in the data center.

Yet, industry surveys consistently show that many IT operators are still unaware of how much power their servers are using.  The main reasons cited are on the business side – typically, due to lack of communication between the facilities org that pays the power bill, and the IT department that operates the servers.

Fortunately, getting a handle on power use can be done without spending a lot of time or money, or interrupting the normal operation of your data center. A good first step is to understand the power profile of a typical server (and later the supporting IT equipment) in your environment.  Once you do that, you may be able to extrapolate the power consumption of the entire farm without explicitly measuring it. 

Another benefit of measuring the power at the server level is the ability to see how power use correlates with workload and other operational factors (more on this later).  This type of information is usually not available at the rack / PDU level, where much of production power monitoring often takes place.

This is the approach that we have taken over the past 6 months, while working on a power management technology for server farms. In the process, we created a tool to help with monitoring server power usage with the power meter we used (which is provided with this post).

DISCLAIMER: The content below is for illustration purposes only, and provides no guarantees of any kind.  It is not intended for a production environment.

Measuring server power consumption

For quick and easy power measurement, we chose Watts Up Pro, a cheap power meter with USB output, which sells online for about $130.  There are others you can use as well, but be sure to investigate whether its possible to programatically consume power measurement data if you want to do any kind of serious analysis.

Measuring server power consumption with Watts Up Pro power meter
Watts Up Pro power meter

Plug the server into the meter, and you can immediately see the Wattage and a host of related metrics on the LCD screen (pictured above with one of our workstation machines).

Our main point of interest was the server itself – however, to extrapolate the power usage for your DC, you’ll likely want to measure a representative unit of equipment including the server(s) and related UPS/networking equipment.  You can plug all of these into a single power strip, and plug that into the meter to capture it all.

Monitoring power consumption

The next step is to be able to monitor the power use over a period of time, and across varying load conditions.  You can then use this information to more accurately predict the server power consumption in your environment, and gain insight into to control it by correlating it with many other operational and load factors.

To collect the power data automatically using the Watts Up Pro meter, we wrote WattsUpMon.exe. 

This tool captures the power samples in real-time from the meter’s USB interface, and publishes this information using Windows performance counters.  Doing so enabled us to monitor the power consumption using any standard performance counter collection tool (including PerfMon.exe), as well as correlate the data programmatically for analysis.

Monitoring power data in real time with WattUpMon.exe 
Using WattsUpMon.exe to monitor power data from a Watts Up Pro meter

If you are using the Watts Up Pro meter, download the WattsUpMon.exe tool.

To use:

  1.  Connect the meter’s USB cable to the monitoring computer
  2.  Install FTD’s virtual serial port driver: http://www.ftdichip.com/FTDrivers.htm
  3.  Double-click WattsUpMon.exe (or use the cmdline parameters to customize behavior)
  4.  Access the performance counters from the WattsUpPro performance object

Analyzing server power consumption

Using the meter and the monitoring tool, we could then monitor the power consumption of a server over time, and observe how it changes depending on the load.  Below is a PerfMon graph of power consumption for a DELL Optiplex 330 workstation machine, while running an example load scenario:

Analyzing server power consumption and performance data with PerfMon.exe
Analyzing power consumption patterns using PerfMon.exe

The machine is part of the new generation of power efficient hardware, and it shows with the average power consumption of 49 watts during the test.  This is impressive, compared to several much slower machines in our lab that draw 200+ watts.

An important thing to note that is that the power consumption of the server changes by as much as 20% of the maximum power consumption during the test run (45-57 watts).  This is due to the automatic power management, enabled by default in Windows Server 2008.

The default “Balanced” power policy uses demand-based switching (DBS) to automatically reduce the frequency of the processors to save power when the machine is under low load.  This leverages the P-state toggling support provided by the processors to the Windows ACPI layer. You can see this in action from the dashed green lines representing the % of maximum processor frequency: when the CPU utilization is low, the CPUs are working at roughly 66% of the maximum frequency.  When the utilization increases, the processor frequency is increased, and the power demand follows. 

Obviously, the processor is not the only power user in the server (although a major one).  Other key consumers include the internal disk drivers, and attached network devices e.g. NAS.  By correlating performance characteristics of the server and associated equipment for specific workloads together with power consumption, it is possible to more accurately model not only the overall power consumption - but also the power cost and power efficiency of specific workloads.  This can then help make better decisions at both the data center and application level to achieve optimal power efficiency, using intelligent workload allocation and techniques like resource consumption shaping (5).

The cost of power

Extrapolating from this scenario, our workstation might costs us 49 Watts / 1000 (KWH) * 24 hrs * 365 days * $.15 = $64/year (using average 15c/KWH commercial price for Middle Atlantic region in Sept 2008 (3)).

In a data center setting, we would use the average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 2.5 to determine the real power consumption due to the server’s operation (4). 

This essentially means that the typical data center will consume 2.5 watts for each 1 watt consumed by a server in cooling, and power distribution overhead.  So, you might project that operating this server costs you $160/year in power costs.

The DELL Optiplex 330 is a new power-efficient workstation machine. Let’s say you had a more typical server that consumed 200 watts on average, and you had a 1000 of them.  Then, they might run you about $653,000/year.  If you had 2000 of them, your cost would be $1.3M/year.

In our case, Windows Power Management saves us about 14% of power consumed. This is a great start, and it’s to know that everyone using Windows Server 2008 will experience similar savings by default (you can also turn this on Windows Server 2003).  Windows 7 promises to deliver even more savings.

The even better news is that it is possible to do much better that that.

The technology that we are developing may be able to deliver much more considerable power savings for server environments.  Our goal is to reach anywhere from 30-80% depending on the environment and load patterns, while insuring quality of service and availability of the server environment.

We hope to realize very significant cost savings for data centers, without requiring expensive investments in new hardware, and application software changes – and provide added savings to those that are also looking to deploy server virtualization and more efficient server hardware to cut power costs.  This should help reduce the pressure of increasing energy prices, demand, and a growing imperative to reduce carbon footprint of DC environments.

More on this in the upcoming weeks.  In the meantime, happy measuring.


(1) Belady, Christian. 2007. “In the Data Center, Power and Cooling Costs More Than the IT Equipment it Supports.” Electronics Cooling. Vol. 23, No. 1, February 2007. 

(2) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2007. “EPA Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency”.

(3) U.S. Energy Information Administration. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_a.html

(4) The Uptime Institute. 2007. The Green Grid Data Center Power Efficiency Metrics: PUE and DCiE.

(5) James Hamilton’s blog. Resource Consumption Shaping.